Surprisingly Helpful: Prompts

What is it about writers, that they can be sooooo ooooooover the things that are good for them? 

Just me? Oh. 

Back in early August, I wrote about #1000wordsofsummer, which I found surprisingly helpful in getting words down for a couple of projects and thinking through problems therein. 

Today, let's talk prompts in a more general way.

Last June, at the conference for the Creative Nonfiction Collective (insert standard "back when conferences/travel/gatherings were things" poignant aside here), I took a workshop with S. Lesley Buxton.* She gave the room full of writers a couple of writing exercises to do, and I found them extremely helpful, even with the performance anxiety of "freewriting in a room with other people." I thought, "Yes, people should do these things." Then I thought, "Hey. I'm a person. I should do stuff like this more often."

Here's another example. In February, I wrote a Writer's Block column at All Lit Up, an organization supporting small Canadian publishers. In it, I described how I get out of a funk, and one of the other Surprisingly Helpful things I do: I make something art-adjacent, using prompts. 

Art-adjacent is key. I draw on an index card. I take no more than ten minutes (to guard against my superpower, over-complicating things). I use pretty markers to draw or pretty colours of paper to make a collage. 

Often, I use a prompt to help further reduce decisions. For several months, I've been using prompts supplied by Julie Paul, a Canadian writer, through her Instagram account, @dailywordprompts (read about them here). She posts on West Coast time, so I use a previous month's prompts, which work just as well.

No, this brief project isn't technically writing (except the prompt itself). And the word isn't necessarily (or often, even) connected to what I draw. It's just a word, and I think about it while I draw a pattern from a book of patterns, or I cut up bits of paper and put them together, or do something else. And then I put it into a box and celebrate FINISHING SOMETHING! And then go about the work of the day, whether that's revising a novel or scraping lichens off our siding or cleaning the schtuff off the fridge.

That sense of accomplishment follows me throughout the day, which is important when so much of regular life is temporary. Like laundry. Dishes. Meals themselves--in another few hours, people will want to eat all over again! Also, writing-wise, long projects (like novels) mean that I don't often have the chance to enjoy a sense of completion. 

These small moments--of finishing something, of using pretty-coloured markers, of thinking about a word, of using my hands to make marks on an index card--have felt even more satisfying and vital during the pandemic. It's hard to focus, and things are weird. Sitting down with markers and an index card has grounded me many days.

Bonus! I've used many of the pens that have hung around my creative space for many years. I'm finding great satisfaction in using the things I have. 

Soon, I'll take them to be recycled. Another small satisfaction, a project completed. Here's to completed projects, art-adjacency, and coloured pens.


* Lesley also interviewed me recently for the CNFC blog. It was fun. You can read it here